Neverwhere Readalong, Part I

I’ve been wanting to read one of Neil Gaiman’s novels ever since last year’s groupread of “Fragile Things.”  I had enjoyed the collection of short stories and looked forward to reading one of his longer books.  When Carl mentioned that he was hosting a groupread of “Neverwhere,” I immediately signed up.

This week’s reading covers chapters 1-5 of the book.  From this point onward, there may be spoilers.  After we’ve finished the book I’ll post a spoiler-free review for anyone who hasn’t read the book and isn’t following along.

1.  What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar?

They’re creepy and not-quite-human.  The scene with the darts and the random mice-eating makes me think that there’s more to them than meets the eye.  At the same time, I don’t have any real reason to dislike them, and it’s interesting to see them interact with each other.

2.  Thus far we’ve had a small taste of London Below and of the people who inhabit it.  What do you think of this world, this space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space the “real world” occupies?

It’s delightful.  It’s got this whole Tim Burton style aura to it, and it seems so much more vibrant than the “real world” above.  I’m enjoying watching Richard keep underestimating it, beginning with the rats and pigeons and ending with Anasthesia’s demise.  This isn’t a happy-go-lucky Disney world, and there’s something very serious going on that Richard has inadvertently gotten caught up in.

3.  What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere?  Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?

The recurring motif of doors stands out to me a lot.  I wonder if there are doors back into London Above that we don’t know about yet.  If there’s a way to get Below, then mightn’t there be a way back up?  I’m also curious about the political structure of London Below.  We’ve heard a bit about it, but we haven’t seen it in action yet.

4.  We’ve met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?

Definitely Hunter.  She’s awesome.  I picture her almost like a female superhero; she may look a bit like a whore on first glance, but when trouble arises she can kick some serious bad guy butt.  I liked how she foiled Croup and Vandemar’s plans without anyone even knowing it.

5.  As you consider the Floating Market, what kind of things does your imagination conjure up? What would you hope to find, or what would you be looking for, at the Market?

Well, Gaiman did mention that they had books.  I’d imagine that the books in London Below contain all of the stories and ideas that authors thought up but never got the chance to write down.

6.  If you haven’t already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?

I’m loving it thus far.  At first I was a bit annoyed by Richard’s interactions with Jessica.  Seeing the two of them together made the book seem so serious.  I felt bad for Jessica at first, because it seemed like Richard didn’t really care about the reservations and wasn’t making any real effort to help her out.  As we saw a bit more of their interaction, I realized that she’s got a Type A personality and needs someone who can handle that.  Richard’s too laid back and has completely different priorities.  It’s one of those cases where the two of them just aren’t right for each other, and if Door hadn’t showed up then Richard and Jessica would have made each other miserable for the rest of their lives.  Once we stepped out of the relationship drama, I immediately was hooked.

When authors follow multiple characters’ point of view, I have a tendency to get attached to one character above all of the others.  In this book for me it’s Doors.  I want to learn more about who killed her family and about her place in the London Underground in general.

I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Comments make me happy! Please feel free to leave a reply.

41 comments

  1. I recently read this book a few weeks back and enjoyed it. I immediately like Richard, his eagerness to help Door, even though she was a stranger stood out to me. It something that rarely happens today.

    1. I didn’t dislike Jessica until she was so willing to just walk away like that. Richard is principled, and I think he makes a very strong protagonist.

  2. Jessica…type A personality. That made me giggle. I liked Richard right away and disliked Jessica. I’ve know too many Jessica’s and I can relate to Richard more so I might be biased.

    I didn’t even think of looking for books at the Floating Market…what’s wrong with me 🙂

    I’m surprised that I don’t hate Croup and Vandemar either. Obviously they aren’t men to be trifled with, but so far I’m more interested in what and who they are.

    And Hunter rocks!

    I won’t have time to write my answers until later today. I’m off to do some sightseeing with the family. Seems like summer is officially here and it is time to have fun. Are you done with school? How’s the reading bonanza?

    1. I can’t hate villains unless I see their motivations or see them do something that’s so objectively evil that I can’t deal with it. Croup and Vandemar seem like quirky bumbling villains, which makes them fun to read about.

      I think that the Floating Market has to be my favorite part of the book so far. It reminded me a bit of the Portobello Road scene in the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

      I finished my classes for the semester and did well in them. I’ve been remarkably busy for the past week or so with friends’ birthdays/graduations/etc., but it’s nice to be able to relax and read during the evenings. I treated myself to some comics this weekend too, which I’m hoping to write about here in the near future. How’s England? 🙂

      1. Congrats on your classes. I’m so jealous that you are in school right now. I loved grad school, but I am glad that I don’t have to stay up all night anymore.

        England is awesome. I have family in town this week so we are sightseeing. Yesterday we went to Warwick Castle, Shakespeare’s home and Oxford University. It was such a great, but tiring day. I love living here.

        Enjoy all of your reading. I have my list ready for your book suggestions!

        1. Thanks! I love summers because once I get off work I don’t have to do more schoolwork. I’m so jealous that you get to see England. 😀

  3. Richard and Jessica are quite the study in opposites attract. Yes, she’s a Type A personality, while I get the impression Richard would be just as happy to let things slide. Certainly, it’s interesting how Richard’s focus can work…he gets so caught up in finding the error in the report that he loses track of time and almost misses his big date. I wonder if he has the ability to see things differently than most–highlighted by his noticing Door and that she needs help while Jessica is quickly to dismiss her as another homeless person.

    1. I could definitely see why Jessica would be annoyed at him periodically, because he’s so caught up in his own little world sometimes that he loses track of time and responsibility, and he knew that this date was important for her both personally and professionally. The two of them have different priorities and incompatible worldviews.

      I did think it was funny when he tried to talk to Jessica after things started getting wonky and she was just kind of like “Do I know you?” It was probably for the better. 😉

      1. But if it was so damned important, why didn’t she phone the restaurant herself. This struck me as very passive-agressive behavior, setting Richard up to fail. You can tell that I’m not a fan, can’t you? 😀

  4. Tim Burton! Yes, that’s a perfect analog to Gaiman’s style. Both surreal but believable.

    I was a bit flummoxed when Jessica simply left Richard because of his wanting to help out a bleeding girl. She lost any love with that one action. Tacky and inconsiderate, I didn’t care one thing for her after that.

    1. Agreed. Richard is far better off without her. Gaiman has created London Below in such a way that it seems more real than the world above, and I can’t wait to see more of it unfold!

        1. It was only for a brief amount of time; I felt like it was more like the two of them weren’t suited for each other than either of them being in the wrong. Jessica needs a career-minded guy who has a spine and knows when to say no to her demands, and Richard needs someone like Door. Of course, once she demanded that Richard leave Door there, I lost any amount of sympathy I had for her. You just don’t do that.

  5. Goodness, you’re so reasonable about Croup and Valdemar! They did send Ross to kill Door, tried to themselves and were really peeved when they are then told by whoever if giving them orders that they’ve got to keep her alive. Mr Vandemar says “We hurt people. We don’t get hurt.” Um, I’m going to go for hating them. Whereas Jessica is just totally self-absorbed, but maybe she only saw Door because Richard could?

    1. Good villains make a story interesting. These guys seem to be funny enough that I can’t hate them yet. I wonder why they’re after Door though.

      I did kind of wonder about the fact that Jessica could see Door. I get the feeling that her presence in the world above wasn’t supposed to happen.

      1. They seem to be hired assassins, so the person on the phone is the one who wanted Door dead, but has now changed his or her mind. They are great villains though.

        I wonder if many of the people from London Below are actually visible, but that people chose to not see them. Jessica assumed that Door was just an alcoholic tramp and so ignored her until Richard called her back.

        1. I don’t know; it seemed like Richard was semi-visible but had no distinguishing sense of identity. At the same time, I think a lot of the London Below folks would be kind of hard not to notice if they were visible.

        2. Hmmm, that’s interesting: “I wonder if many of the people from London Below are actually visible, but that people chose to not see them.” It does seem like the people of London Below are like the overlooked people of London Above.

  6. I didn’t mind the romantic bit at the beginning, it clearly wasn’t going to last! I though the world Below seemed really political too, I hope that is something that gets developed beyond the hints we have had so far as I get the impression it’s a major motivator in Door’s story.

  7. At first I thought Richard was a lucky guy to have Jessica. Then I notice all the little comments Gaiman throws in about how Jess (oops, I mean Jessica) has him follow her around on shopping sprees to carry the bags and she won’t hang out at this apartment because ‘it isn’t her type of place’. Definitely not for each other. But then I like how Gaiman uses her personality to show how her world is so small because that is all she can see. Richard’s world is bigger, but still mostly a London Above view at the beginning of the book.

    1. Mhm, and even the fact that she didn’t seem to care that he wasn’t into art galleries… he’s so much better off down below with Door.

    2. The red flag for me was when Richard’s co-worker called her “the Creature from the Black Lagoon.” I thought, whoa, I don’t think this relationship is going to end well.

  8. Hi Grace. 🙂

    “It’s [London Below] got this whole Tim Burton style aura to it,..”

    YES!!! I totally agree. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but that nails it.

    I think Richard is a fantastic protagonist and I feel this book is definitely HIS journey, but like you, I’m also very drawn to Door. She sort of keeps herself distant from Richard, I think to almost protect him because she thinks kindly and highly of him. I admire that about her.

    1. I’m glad that Door didn’t just leave Richard behind when everyone was telling her he’d only be a burden, even though it will put all of them at a bit more risk.

      1. I think Door felt really bad about what happened the first time she left Richard, and this was her chance to make up for that. She is an interesting character!

  9. I wonder if Richard will stop underestimating London Below (especially after losing Anaesthesia on the bridge). He certainly is pretty naive. I find the door motif intriguing, too. I’m curious about Door’s family and what, exactly, they did (and why they were murdered). And Hunter is awesome 🙂

    1. I want to know who Croup and Vandemar are working for. Someone doesn’t like Door or her family very much, and I’d also like to know why. 🙂

  10. Croup and Vandemar are a strange pair, to be sure. They seem to be a mismatched pair but I don’t doubt at all that they are “friends” and that they feel linked to one another. Two bad apples, but delightfully villainous ones.

    On the other hand, Richard and Jessica are very much a mismatch. Croup and Vandemar are a much better “couple” when it comes to that. Richard, to this point, seems like someone who is reluctantly dragged into everything, including an engagement and then an adventure where he is in over his head. I can’t dislike Jessica entirely in that she seems very true to her nature and to herself, she just isn’t the right one for Richard or him for her, from what we’ve seen to this point. I feel like they would both be settling for a miserable existence if things hadn’t derailed their plans.

    Hunter is a great character. She is a really good one to hold up as a comparison to Richard and to see how different they are from each other. Richard needs some of Hunter’s courage, some of her determination. Richard is really very lost at this point in the story and it makes it interesting for the reader to be on this journey with him.

    1. Haha, Croup and Vandemar are definitely much more suited to each other than Richard and Jessica! They work so well as a pair and are entertaining to watch, whereas Richard and Jessica’s relationship is a bit like a train wreck. There’s nothing healthy about it, but neither one realizes it.

      I love the fact that Gaiman manages to inject such a mischievous sense of humor into his writing thus far.

  11. Tim Burton. Oh for heaven’s sake–this is SO Tim Burtenesque and I totally never thought about that before! I definitely picture London Below as something from a Tim Burton movie, and I never even realized it.

  12. Oh Tim Burton should totally do a Neverwhere movie. How cool would that be? I love your answer to #3 — the possibility of a door back up and the interesting political structure of London Below.

    1. I kind of want to see the miniseries that inspired the novel; it seems like it would be really fun to film something like Neverwhere. 🙂